I hated that people thought my father was crazy, because the guys were right: That kind of stuff could be hereditary. It can get mixed up in your genes. I could be next. To make matters worse, about a month after the McGuire thing my father showed up at school one morning at nine o’clock. I’d only been there an hour. He had the vice-principal come and get me out of class, making like there was some kind of emergency.
When I walked to the office I saw my father waiting for me. He was standing at attention next to the secretary but not looking at her. He stared straight ahead at the wall where this stupid painting of a drooling dog with lifeless eyes was hung. It looked like one of those paint-by-number jobs done on black velvet. It was the worst painting I’d ever seen in my life, and exactly the kind of thing they hang in the administration offices of high schools. I think it was supposed to be soothing and innocuous, but by now I was interested in painting and considering the life of an artist, and this piece of shit I found highly disturbing.
“What are you doing here?” I said.
“Come on, Vinny. We have to do something important.”
Everyone stared at us as we walked down the hall and out of school. I could feel their beady eyes, hear the whispers.
“Is something wrong with Mom?” I asked, when we were in the parking lot. He’d driven our old LTD, and my father rarely drove anymore. He’d been taking a lot of medication and wasn’t supposed to drive or operate machinery, according to the labels on the prescription bottle labels.
“Just get in the car, son.”
He held the door open for me. I got in.
“What’s so important?”
“I missed you today. I thought we’d go for a ride.”
“I have a trig test in third period. I can’t miss it.”
He drove towards Moreau State Park, where sometimes we went sledding when I was little. It was not a pretty day. The sky hung low and almost all the leaves had fallen off the trees. It had rained the day before and the side of the road was still wet. The browns and grays of winter had moved in, like an army wiping out the vivid reds and yellows and oranges that highlight the peak of autumn.
“What’d you learn in school today?” he asked.
“It’s nine o’clock, Dad. I wasn’t there long enough to learn anything.”
He didn’t drive fast or recklessly, but he did grip the wheel very tightly; his knuckles whitened. I noticed he drove a long circuitous route—we passed the same green barn on Harley Road twice.
“Dad, are you lost?” I asked. “If you turn on Route 32 up here we can get back to—”
“Of course I’m not lost, we’re just going for a drive. How can we be lost if we’re just out having fun?”
“Dad, third period starts at 10:20. You said we had something important to do.”
“I love you, Vinny,” he said. “Did I ever tell you that? I love you so much and if I could I’d make it all better.” He put one arm on the back of the seat, around my shoulder.
“Make what all better?” I said very sarcastically.
“It’s a tragedy how we never say we love each other. Why don’t we ever do that? Before you know it, you don’t have a chance. So I just wanted to say I love you, son.”
I stared out the passenger side window.
“To be honest, Vinny, I’ve never loved anyone the way I love you. Not your mother, not Celine. You should never love one child more than the other, but it’s only natural, you can’t help it. You’re my favorite. Of course I love your sister, but with you it’s different. We have a special connection. You can’t tell anyone this, it’s just between us. But you’re the most important person in the world to me.”
I spotted two deer along the side of the road at the edge of the woods. A big doe and a little one.
“Is there anything you want to say to me?” he asked.
“I need to get back to school.”
We continued in silence for a few minutes. Then my father leaned closer to the windshield. “My God,” he said, suddenly. “Look at those palm trees. Look how green the jungle is. How lucky we are, Vinny, aren’t we lucky to live in such a beautiful world? Aren’t we lucky to be here together.”
“Maybe I should drive, Dad,” I suggested. I’d just gotten my license.
“Such beauty,” he said, “all laid to waste. All burnt to a goddamn crisp.” He was staring up at the sky, moving his head back and forth, as if to some awful music.
“Son, do you like flowers?” he asked. “Flowers and dogs. I was just thinking we should get a family dog. Maybe a golden retriever. Would you like to go look for a dog right now?”
“Dad, stop the car.”
“Vinny, Vinny, Vinny,” he said. He put a hand on my knee.
Then he drove off the road. We were on a curve at the time, and he continued straight. When we bumped off the road I hit my head on the roof and bit through my tongue. We crashed through a barbed wire fence and ran over some bushes. My father still had his foot on the gas pedal and the engine raced and tires spun. We hit a ditch and the front end dove and the back end rose up and twisted. The car tipped sideways and fell against the broken stump of a tree that had once been hit by lightning. My side of the car was down and my father landed on top of me.
The engine continued to chug. I screamed at him through the thick blood in my mouth. “Get off me!” I spluttered. “Get the fuck off me!” I tried pushing him away, but his weight had me pinned. I could feel him breathing hard.
“Dad!” He didn’t answer. Blood appeared between his lips and dribbled down his chin. “Dad!”
A few minutes later I heard a voice outside the car. “Are you injured?” someone asked. “Don’t move, help is on the way.”
I lay underneath my father for what seemed like a week. He didn’t move or say a word but I could hear his breathing and even feel his pulse against me. These pink bubbles on his mouth came and went with each breath. It took a long time for the rescue people to get him out. They moved him carefully and lifted him through the driver’s side door. There were two guys and they kept giving each other directions. “Hold his head up,” said one.
“Get an arm around his waist,” said another.
“Slide the board under . . . That’s it.”
“Stabilize the neck. Okay, on three, ready . . .”
Oh, just yank him out, I thought.
When they finally got him free, I climbed out by myself.
My father rode on a stretcher in the back of the ambulance. I sat up front, with the driver, who used the flashing lights but not the siren. I held a gauze to my mouth to soak up the blood. The driver told me about this horrible accident on the freeway he’d been called to the previous day. Two people dead, one of them burned, the other crushed. There was no need to hurry when he headed to the hospital after that one. I don’t know why he thought that story would make good conversation.[From STILL LIFE]